The Mass: Our greatest treasure
This article is the first of the Know the Mass series.
By Father Kevin Kennedy
Father Kevin Kennedy is pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, administrator at St. Monica-St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in San Francisco and formation advisor and spiritual director at St. Patrick’ Seminary & University.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says to His disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13: 44-46).
Each and every individual could be asked to locate and identify the treasure, or the pearl of great price, in his or her own life. What is invaluable? What takes priority? What is most important for me? If asked this same question, what would be the answer of the universal Church?
The answer is found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promulgated on December 4, 1963, and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, promulgated on November 21, 1964. These major documents of the Second Vatican Council state that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10). And again, the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, no. 11). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1324) reiterated this solemn teaching. Founded upon the words and deeds of the Lord Himself, this has been the constant belief of the Church (East and West) from the very beginning.
The Eucharist is truly a priceless treasure because within it is contained the entire mystery of Christ.
From this mystery flows all of Christian spirituality and all of the life and mission of the Church. At the same time, the life and mission of the Church reaches its apex, or highest point, in the Holy Eucharist. It is therefore catastrophic for the spiritual health of the Church that nearly 70 percent of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of the Lord (the pearl of great price) in the Eucharist. In response to this grave crisis the bishops of the Church seek to initiate a Eucharistic revival in catechesis and worship (theology and praxis). It is hoped that this series on the Mass will contribute towards a renewal in Eucharistic faith and devotion throughout the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Vatican II called for fully conscious participation in the Mass: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14). Often misunderstood, this participation should not be just external, but primarily internal as well. This pertains also to our preparation for celebrating the Eucharist. In this regard our depth of faith, our understanding, our intentions and motivations are paramount. Perhaps the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18: 9-14) can guide us.
In this story the Pharisee and the tax collector both go to the temple to pray. Outwardly, their intentions and actions seem the same, but inwardly there is a vast difference in their hearts. The point of this parable is sometimes lost because of a focus on the symptoms (self-righteous arrogance), rather than the root cause (lack of faith), of the Pharisee’s spiritual sickness. To enter the temple is to be in the presence of God. If I am in the house of God, I am not in my own living room. If I truly believe I am in God’s presence, then I will not act as if I am completely alone. And therefore my point of reference in self-evaluation will no longer be myself, but rather God’s truth and God’s holiness. The Pharisee stands by himself and is not praying to God, but essentially talking to himself, focused on himself, celebrating himself. His arrogance and contempt for others is simply a consequence of his inward alienation from God. By contrast, because the tax collector is intensely aware that he is in a holy place, indeed God’s own presence, he sees and judges himself in relation to God rather than in a self-referential way. He is genuinely heartbroken for his sins and, trusting in God’s mercy, seeks to be reconciled with the Lord. This man, who leaves the temple justified rather than empty and alone, will be our model of authentic worship as we examine next time the Introductory Rite of the Mass.